Dr. Gregg Strawbridge December 23, 2007 (Isaiah 7:10-17)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:9-14 ESV)
1) The Ghost of Christmas Past - Just about all OT scholars agree that the term “virgin” (alma in Hebrew) is not equal to “virgin,” but means “young woman” or better, “young woman of marriageable age.” As we read in Isaiah, the context and setting of this passage needs a “near” fulfillment of the prophet’s words. No miraculous “virgin birth” is in view in the original setting. The mother and child must be seen as a sign to Ahaz. The sign must be significant for the royal house of Judah, from which Ahaz is currently enthroned.
2) The Ghost of Christmas Present - Matthew 1:23 (“the virgin shall conceive”) is perfectly clear in its context in Matthew, as well as Luke. Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel. But because it is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14, complex issues are raised concerning Matthew’s use of the OT and the meaning of Isaiah 7. Was Matthew misusing Isaiah? The key term in Is. 7 is “Immanuel.” It means, “God is with us.” Context is key. God essentially says to Ahaz at the beginning of his reign, “Trust me.” Since Ahaz refuses God promises destruction, this is true of Ahaz personally as well. “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD...He even burned his son as an offering” (2 Kgs 16:2-3). When Matthew cited this passage, Israel like Ahaz, distrusted God and sought their own way to be redeemed. God was holding out the sign of the birth of Jesus and yet, for the most part, Israel rejected Jesus. Later, True Israel must go through a new exodus. “‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matt 2:15).
3) The Ghost of Christmas Future - Once upon a time, December 25th was the “birth of the invincible sun.” All the world sat in darkness, even at the time when the Sun was reborn at the Winter Solstice and the True Son of Righteousness was laid in a manger. December 25th is no longer the Roman festival of sol invictus, “birth of the invincible sun.”-- it is, even for Hallmark, Christmas. That is basically true for whole world at this point. While politically correct coercion requires hostesses and servers to revise the Christian greeting and say, “happy holidays” --- that is only a mute and lame suppression of the obvious fact that, “I am saying ‘happy holidays’ instead of “merry Christmas.’” God sent His Son to be born as the light of the world. Now we must live out this faith by thinking, serving and loving one another.
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more